When my generous friend Gigi offered to teach me how to make “warak dawalie” (Palestinian stuffed grape leaves) with her mom’s traditional recipe, I was ecstatic. I had tried these little bites of juicy goodness before, but never thought I would attempt to make them myself! When we got to her house, Gigi led us outside to her backyard- imagine my excitement when we went into her garden to pick our own grape leaves!? Amazing. Here’s how we made our own stuffed grape leaves.
Stuffed grape leaves are a common dish throughout the Middle East, and other parts of Asia and Eastern Europe. There are SO many different names and variations (see this list here!). First, you’ll need to gather your ingredients. You can either make these stuffed grape leaves with fresh leaves (as we were so fortunate to do!) or with jarred leaves.
- grape leaves (either fresh or from a jar)
- 2 lbs of ground beef or lamb
- 2 c white rice
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- dash of ground cloves
- salt (maybe a tablespoon)
- 1/2 c butter- if possible, clarified butter (ghee)
- 2 sliced tomatoes
- 2 lemons (or lemon juice)
First, put your rice to soak for about an hour. This will begin to soften the rice and it will assure that it cooks properly.
Also- only if you’re using fresh leaves!- you’ll need to wash the leaves, and then quickly dip them into boiling water. Note the color change once they are blanched (left).
Next, prepare the pot by lining the bottom with sliced tomatoes. Gigi says this simple trick can keep the bottom stuffed grape leaves from burning in case the water runs low. The tomatoes taste delicious when it’s all finished! By this time we drained the rice and salted it and the meat. Add all of the spices with the raw meat and uncooked rice (for some reason I thought you had to cook the rice/meat before stuffing! Who knew!?). This would be the perfect job for kids!
The next step is the fun part: rolling the stuffed grape leaves! You begin by placing a grape leaf down with the vein side up (so it will be on the inside of the roll). With a teaspoon or so of the meat mixture, roll the leaf up like a burrito:
Once you get the hang of it, it doesn’t take long to do a couple hundred rolls! It is so much fun to work with a friend because the time flies by. We packed them very tightly in the pot- one layer all in one direction, and then the next layer perpendicular. We alternated their orientation every layer and really tried to pack them in tightly- you are going to be boiling water in the pot and you don’t want them wiggling around and unrolling.
Finally, add water to just cover the level of the leaves. Sprinkle in salt, and add 1/4 c of lemon juice to the water. Once it boils hard for 5 minutes, turn the fire down to medium. Let it cook until you see that the water is dried out. For fresh leaves, it will only take an hour to an hour and a half. For jarred leaves- since they are more fibrous and not as tender- it will take 3+ hours, and you can add more water as needed.
When it is finished, pour fresh lemon juice over the top, and 2 large spoons of butter. The result is AMAZING- better than you ever imagined! My kids gobbled them up like popcorn- and frankly, I did too! What a fun way to spend the afternoon- thank you so much Gigi for welcoming us into your kitchen! I love being able to expose my kids to different cultures through the immense variety of food, tastes, and textures in global cuisines. The more we share unique tastes to our kids, the more likely they are to try something new. Enjoy!